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A Greek Roman Empire: Power and Belief under Theodosius II, 408-450.

A Greek Roman Empire: Power and Belief under Theodosius II, 408-450. By Fergus Millar. (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2006. Pp. xxvi, 279. $49.95.)

As early as the third century, the Greek-speaking eastern half of the Roman Empire began to separate itself administratively from the Latin-speaking western lands. Diocletian legitimized that tendency with his constitutional reforms, and, by the death of Theodosius I [395], the principle of separate eastern and western Roman regimes was firmly entrenched. From that point on, according to Fergus Millar, the two regimes acted more often as "twin empires" than as a single Roman state.

In A Greek Roman Empire, Millar focuses exclusively on documents pertaining to the eastern court of Theodosius II, primarily the relevant portions of the Codex Theodosianus, the Novellae of Theodosius, the Codex Justinianus, and the Acta of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Source studies are, of course, invaluable to the study of Late Antiquity, a period when nearly every branch of literature presents its own unique problems of interpretation. Unfortunately, Millar adds little to the textual criticism of fifth-century sources. His primary argument, extraordinarily enough, is that the Eastern Empire spoke and wrote in Greek, rather than in Latin--a point so banal as to be obvious to any competent Western Civilization student. Millar frequently comments on how "remarkable" a source is, but his analysis seldom reaches any deeper than his observation that the sources were written in Greek, a point he repeats at least a hundred times over the course of the text, much like his equally banal and repetitive assertion that most imperial laws were merely letters. Millar never follows through on his promise of examining the sources as literature. Nor does he extract from the sources any new or unique insights into the administration, religion, or culture of the period.

A Greek Roman Empire is based on the Sather Lectures that Millar delivered in 2002-2003. Sadly, the book betrays its lecture roots all too often and was allowed to reach publication as a rambling, seemingly unedited volume without any clear direction. At times, one even wonders if the book was peer-reviewed prior to publication. For example, Millar asserts that the division of the empire was the accidental result of Theodosius I having to divide the throne between his two sons (3). Of course, Theodosius would never have made such a division had there not already been clear precedent, going back into the third century, for an East/West split, but Millar omits this and inexplicably speaks of the twin empires as if they had begun during the reigns of Arcadius and Honorius--a spectacular omission for a book ostensibly arguing for the development of a separate Greek empire.

Millar's final chapter has some interesting observations about the practice of approaching the imperial court. However, in general, this reviewer cannot find anything in A Greek Roman Empire sufficient to recommend it for readers at any level.

David Frye

Eastern Connecticut State University

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Author:Frye, David
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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